3 Things to Consider When Selecting an Incubator

Are you considering hatching your own chicks? Brief yourself on our trio of considerations before investing in your incubator.

by Ana Hotaling
PHOTO: Shutterstock

You’ve decided to hatch your own chicks this season. Congratulations! There’s nothing quite as exhilarating in the realm of poultry-keeping as watching baby chicks pip their way out of their eggshells, and there’s nothing quite as cute as the little bundles of baby fluff you get to hold once the hatchlings have dried their down.

Before you jump online or jump into your car to head to a farm-supply store, take the time to contemplate just what you want from an incubator. Like anything else we can buy to help in our poultry pursuits, a variety of incubators are available to suit the many different needs of chicken fanciers. These three topics will help you determine what type of is right for you.

1. How Many Chicks You Want

How many chicks do you plan to hatch? If you intend to hatch fewer than a half-dozen chicks once or possibly twice per year, your needs can be easily met by a mini incubator. These dome-shaped machines sit on your table or countertop and typically feature a seven-egg capacity. Mini incubators are inexpensive and commonly offer only a few easy-to-understand controls, perfect for new chicken owners and especially parents with children. Mini incubators are available at stores such as Wal-Mart as well as online at Amazon and directly from manufacturer websites.

tabletop mini incubator
Brinsea Products Inc

If you plan multiple hatches each year or if you expect to hatch for yourself as well as family and friends (or even for customers), you need more than a mini incubator. Evaluate how many eggs you expect to set, and choose a larger machine accordingly. A small tabletop incubator handles 10 to 14 eggs, while tray and standard incubators hold from one to two dozen eggs. If you plan to hatch and establish a sizable flock or if you plan to sell chicks as a business, look to a larger incubator (one that handles at least 28 eggs) or to a cabinet-style incubator, which—depending on style and size—can hold 100 eggs or more.

cabinet incubator
Brinsea Products Inc.

2. Your Preferred Level of Involvement

How much time do you intend to dedicate to your eggs? Do you plan to be a hands-on hatcher, involved with every aspect of your clutch’s incubation? Are you happier to be hands off, trusting the controls to handle almost everything until Pipping Day? Many lower-end incubators are simple devices that require you to do a lot, including tracking the temperature and hand-turning the eggs multiple times per day. Higher-end machines incorporate more electronic components, such as hygrometers (which measure the humidity level), temperature regulators, egg turners and countdown clocks, minimizing your involvement. In between these two extremes are devices that adapt with your hatching hobby or business: You can add an egg turner or a hygrometer at a later date. Make sure you fully evaluate how much effort you’re prepared to put in every day before you make your purchase.

3. What Kinds of Birds You Want

What to you plan to hatch? Will you stick with bantam and standard breeds for your whole poultry-keeping experience? Is there even a slight chance you might eventually hatch ducklings, goslings or poults? If you are positive that your incubator will produce only chickens, then any standard incubator will serve your purpose. If you might branch out into ducks, geese or turkeys, look for an incubator that can adjust to accommodate these larger eggs.

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chick duckling

Whichever incubator you choose, regardless of whether you buy it online, in a store, direct from the manufacturer or at a farm-supply center, make certain that you register it and read the instructions thoroughly, especially those pertaining to your incubator’s care. Proper maintenance of your machine will ensure that it lasts for years and yields healthy babies every time you use it.

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